Caring for Your Child’s Chompers: Tips from Lisa, Our Friendly Dental Hygienist

Here at Milestones & Miracles we feel blessed to have many experts at an arm’s length in the work we do. We will be starting to feature some of their thoughts with you. To start off, we’d like to share information from Lisa Dyer, registered dental hygienist at Lifestyles Dental Enhancement Center in Frederick, MD. Lisa has over 15 years experience not only shining the pearly whites, but also charming the tiny tots that sit in her chair. In celebration of the upcoming Children’s Dental Health Month (February), we asked Lisa to share tips on what you need to know about dental care when expecting or parenting young children. Thank you Lisa! (and we promise to floss)

 Dentist!!  It sometimes takes only 1 word for some people to cringe or say EWWW!  We, at the dental office are not out to get you, promise.  But, we totally understand what it may be…past bad past experiences or just nervous feelings, etc.  We will try our best to make your experience at the “dentist” very accommodating whether you’re a hater or not.  We want you to have a positive experience so you will relay that to your child/children.  Functionally we use our teeth for eating, smiling and talking.  They are important in everyday life.

If you are pregnant, can hormones affect your gums?  Yes, but so can less energy, etc. leading to less diligent homecare with brushing and flossing.  Baby teeth start to form before birth.  During pregnancy, it is important to keep good oral health habits for yourself as well.

On average, babies first teeth usually erupt at about 6 months of age (2 bottom front teeth usually).  When you see those little pearls, start wiping them with a wet washcloth.  During bath time is easy, prior to adding soap.  Washcloths are rough enough to adhere sticky plaque substances.  Brushing with a finger toothbrush or super small manual toothbrush are both fine.  My favorite personally is the wet washcloth technique.  A pea size amount of toothpaste (unfluoridated till they become a good spitter ~ around age 2+) is appropriate when they start getting a mouth full of teeth.

Which leads to ERUPTION:  All 20 baby (primary) teeth are usually erupted around age 3.  Exfoliation (losing baby teeth) is usually around age 6 and permanent teeth are usually all erupted around age 12.  Again, these time frames can range but if your child starts the process early, they will likely finish early.

Age to take your child to the dentist?  As of 11/29/12,  “The Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the child be seen by a pediatric or general dentist at the time the first tooth comes into the mouth and no later than the child’s first birthday.”  Is dentistry subjective?  I feel this subject is one of those subjective areas.  I can say that both of my kids were 2 years and 10 months old and all went and was well for both.  They do not have anxiety about going to doctor’s appointments so this was a good indicator.  At the first dental appointment, regardless of time, it would address homecare for parents of their child’s teeth.  There would be an introduction of the dental environment ~ let’s say “show and tell”.  These things can just be shown if that’s all the child is ready for….on or off the parent’s lap.  Mr. Thirsty (suction), squirt gun (water syringe), blow dryer (air), Mr. Sunshine (light) and sunglasses, homecare and diet, the child’s growth and development as well as any habits that are present. Habit examples would be grinding teeth, pacifier, thumb or finger sucking, nail biting, etc.   Also, some find that by being indifferent about the appointment is easiest, like not saying it’s super easy or super hard.  It doesn’t pre-set the child to completely read too much into it.  Books and videos are of course wonderful tools for an at home introduction as well.

Homecare ~ Think of it this way, there are 24 hours in your whole day, it only takes how long out of 24 hours to care for your teeth.  It’s like a runner with endurance, at first a runner can’t run very far for very long, the more they do it the farther they run, the longer they last.  Same with the gums, at first they bleed you feel it when flossing, but the more you do it, the more your gums are “enduranced”.  I’m sure you can apply this to many aspects of life.  I just prefer it when dealing with dental hygiene.

Although brushing was touched on earlier, brush size should be appropriate with the age of the child.   Children sometimes encourage parents to let them use the adult size.  This will not effectively clean the fronts, backs and chewing surfaces of the teeth.  Don’t forget the tongue ~ lots of bacteria collects here as well.  Take turns with your child with brushing.  Doesn’t matter who goes first.  But adequate dexterity doesn’t take place until the child is in 2nd grade for solo brushing.  Also, in 2nd grade, the American Academy of Orthodontics recommends initial orthodontic consultations.  This is to make sure development is where it should be and if orthodontic treatment is indicated that there is a treatment plan in place.

Flossing, cleans in between the teeth and behind the last teeth in the mouth.  The toothbrush will not clean where the teeth come together and touch.  Floss piks are great – one-handed.  If you prefer manual floss, waxed is easier to get between than unwaxed.  Tear off a piece from hand to elbow in length, wrap around your middle fingers and guide with index and/or thumbs in those little mouths.  Battery or electric brushes are good selections as children are old enough to maneuver…parents can use these on those little mouths too.  We physically can’t do the motion an electric does on our teeth.

Mouthwash – there are a couple different “kinds”.  There’s antimicrobial mouthwash (generally a Crest ProHealth and Listerine type brands even though the purple Listerine has fluoride added) and there’s fluoridated mouthwash (like ACT).  My kids, currently ages 8 and 12 use ACT every night and we have fluoridated city water.  They are not getting fluorosis (too much fluoride) from this.

X-rays at the dental office ~ Your office should always use a lead apron with a thyroid collar.  An exception would be if a panorex is being taken and you only need the lead apron, not the thyroid collar because it could interfere with the radiograph.  Digital x-rays produce about 80% less radiation than conventional x-rays.  They’re the way to go for sure!

Drinks:  Baby bottle decay is terrible!  Google for pictures.  It will not make you excited if this happens to your child.  You are under control of what gets put in your child’s bottle.  Give up the bottle entirely by age 1, no later than 18 months according to the AAP.

Give up the sippy cup?  Traditional sippy cups are only supposed to be used as a short transition to real cups.  Overusing sippy cups can cause more than dental cavities, they can also contribute to speech difficulties.  Switching to cups with straws are much better for speech development and dental health.  Regular cups are recommended by the AAP, between 12 and 15 months.  What about using these for meals and straw cups for water on the go?  I feel like the biggest deal is the content.  Water?  Great!  Juice, never have it?  No!  Just know that juice, whether diluted or not can have sugar and ACID.  Apple juice with the most and orange juice next.  Acid erodes the enamel (white covering of the crowns of the teeth).  Just think how drinks shower the teeth which can lead to decay if something with sugar and/or acid.  Milk also has sugar.  Never have it?  Absolutely not, as long as you’re educated, this can lead to positive decision making.  Don’t sip on sugary and/or acidic drinks throughout the day.  If having those, it’s better to have with a meal.  Each exposure is what counts.  Carbohydrates break down to sugars too.  This is important to know.  As a side note, sticky foods like gummy snacks are not thumbs up choices.  Dental caries (decay) is an infectious disease and is the most chronic of children in the country.

As your child grows, hopefully you will help them learn and stay educated in the dental world.  There are links between oral and heart health for one.  I won’t get detailed with that.  Hopefully there will be presentations at school or scout meetings perhaps as reminders for promoting healthy teeth and gums.  I love doing interactive presentations as a “community helper”.  I have a couple favorite parts of the presentation which include standing the kids shoulder to shoulder…they are teeth.  I use a jump rope as floss and show them the correct technique.  Also, I have shiny poster board teeth in which we use green silly string to represent plaque and they have to demonstrate the circular brushing technique that they should use at home.  Great learning tool.  February is Children’s Dental Health Month.  Let’s all play an active part in educating ourselves and our childen to have the healthiest 2013.  Only take care of the teeth you want to keep.

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